Ironman Germany 2019 – How the Race Might Unfold

With the deep fields in Frankfurt and a lot of Kona slots on the line, it’s interesting to speculate on how the race might unfold and what to look for on race day. These projections are solely based on the previous results and “nominal times” by the athletes, of course race tactics (groups forming, someone taking a risk by going a bit harder, etc.) will also have an influence, especially when athletes are close to each other.

You’ll be able to follow the race on German TV (on hr3 with German commentary by Dirk Froberg and Ralf Scholt, it’ll also be streamed on hessenschau.de) and trough the Ironman coverage on Facebook (with English language commentary).

“The Big Three”

The main focus in Frankfurt will be on “The Big Three” – the Kona winners of the last five years: Jan Frodeno, Patrick Lange and Sebastian Kienle. As you can see from the seedings, these athletes are probably a good step ahead of the other athletes. Here’s a graphical view of where they are expected to be in relation to each other and also in relation to a couple of other athletes:

(The other athletes listed are the already qualified Joe Skipper and David Plese, and the expected leaders of the race for the Kona slots.)

Here are a few comments:

  • Frodo, Patrick and Sebi are expected to end up about 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. After the swim there will still be a few athletes around, but probably towards the end of the first bike loop they will have separated from the rest of the field, and the gap will continue to grow on the run.
  • The gap between the three Germans is relatively small. The graph shows the “nominal times”, but race tactics will also play a big role in how the race will unfold.
  • Because Sebi is the slowest swimmer (likely to be about three to four minutes behind in T1), the first part of his bike leg will be focused on closing the gap to the lead of the race. Sebi has stated that he’ll be happy to finish in second place (meaning that he wants to beat either Jan or Patrick), so he and Frodo might work together in the second half of the bike to gap Patrick into T2.
  • Frodo is usually the best swimmer. If he has a gap to Patrick coming out of the water, I expect him to work hard at the start of the bike and not allow Patrick to ride up to him. Once Sebi catches up to him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them put in the work to extend the lead over Patrick.
  • In last year’s race, Patrick was able to swim with Frodo and the two stayed together for almost the whole bike leg. If he manages to do stay close to Frodo and Sebi until T2, that would show he’s also one of the strongest bike riders if needed.
  • On the run, Frodo probably wants to show that he is still the best runner (even after the injury that kept him from racing Kona), while Patrick will be interested to show he can run well in Frankfurt and not “just” in Kona. The expected difference between them is less than a minute, so it’s pretty much impossible to predict what will happen on race day, especially when there is close racing in the marathon.
  • Sebi will be happy to show that he is able to run with the best (and beat at least one of them), but his run form is probably not quite at 100% yet after dealing with injury problems over the winter.

I hope that all of them have had some good last weeks of preparation and that all of them will race in great form. I expect a close and fascinating race in Frankfurt.

The Race for the Male Kona Slots

The race is even harder to predict if we take away “The Big 3” and the other already qualified athletes and put a focus on the race for the four male Pro Kona slots:

There’s a lot of crowding and a lot of changes during the race, here are just a few highlights of what to look for during the race:

  • The two athletes with the best chances for a Kona slot are Franz Loeschke and Emilio Aguayo Munoz, but both of them are still pretty unexperienced on the IM-distance: Franz has done IM Hamburg (where the swim was replaced with a 5k run) and IM Barcelona (missing a win and a Kona slot by 11 seconds) in the 2018 season, Emilio has only done IM Lanzarote 2019 (where he finished third). It’s hard to predict what they are going to be able to do in Frankfurt.
  • Two other Kona candidates are Ivan Rana and Matt Russell, both of them will need good runs (under 2:50?) in order to make up the time they are likely to lose on the bike (Ivan) or swim (Matt).
  • There is a group of strong swim/bikers with Patrick Dirksmeier, Antony Costes and Christian Kramer, but they will also need a solid run if they want to snag a slot.
  • There are more than ten athletes with a realistic chance for a slot – I expect around three minutes between the four athletes getting a slot and maybe five or more athletes missing a slot by just a few minutes.

The Female Race

The female field is a lot smaller than the men’s field, and unfortunately there were some injury-related withdrawals (Anne Haug with lower leg issues, Angela Naeth just had surgery for her broken wrist). In addition, some of the athletes that are still on the start list are unlikely to race (Linsey Corbin and Anja Ippach as a backup for Ireland).  The following graph showing how the female race might unfold is based on this “reduced” field:

The smaller number of female Pros results very likely in two Kona Pro slots. I think there is going to be a really interesting race – both for the win and for the Kona slots – with an interesting dynamic and a lot of lead changes:

  • Sarah True is the best swimmer in the female field – and nominally the strongest runner. On paper, she can put more than 15 minutes into the rest of the field and it’s probably okay if she loses a few minutes to the fast bikers. However, Sarah has shown in Kona that she is also able to bike more aggressively and still run well. But of course her main focus will be on securing a Kona slot after her recent DNF at IM Cairns.
  • There are two athletes that I expect to ride to the front of the race on the bike: Daniela Bleymehl and Kim Morrison have similar swim and bike capabilities (less than a minute apart in each of the legs) and might even form a mini “lead group” when Daniela steps up her games as she’s hinted at last year and in the first part of the season. They should be able to make up their deficit of around four minutes to Sarah in the first loop of the bike. Things should shuffle around a bit on the run, and it’ll be interesting to see who is able to improve on previous run times. I expect the order of athletes to settle in the second of four run loops but we’ve seen some late explosions in Frankfurt so the race will be interesting until the finish line.
  • Another athlete that should have a strong bike leg is Jen Annett, and the best bike leg will be posted either by her, Daniela or Kim. Jen’s swim will determine if she is has a chance to make her way to the front, nominally she should be four to five minutes behind Daniela and Kim in T1. On the run, she might close the gap to Kim and grab the last spot on the podium – and probably Kona slot as well.
  • Among the other athletes, Skye Moench is not going to be too far behind the Top 3, on a good day she might be able to put herself in contention for a Kona slot. Skye was seventh last year in Frankfurt but has already shown a solid improvement with her sub-9 finish in Arizona last November.
  • Lenny Ramsey and Saleta Castro are two of the strongest runners in the field, both are able to run just over 3 hours in Frankfurt. But they are probably going to fall back too far on the bike – unless they manage to improve their bike leg over previous races and ride under 5 hours.
  • Then there are also a number of interesting “Iron Rookies” that have done well in 70.3 racing: Sarah Lewis (most recently a third place at 70.3 Dubai in February, only behind Holly Lawrence and Anne Haug), Amelia Watkinson (lots of 70.3 wins in 2016 and 2017 before dealing with an injury that she seems fully recovered from) or Imogen Simmonds (sixth at 70.3 Worlds 2018 and winner of 70.3 Luxembourg in June with a gap of seven minutes). Based on their 70.3 results, all of them have the potential for a finish somewhere around 9:10 and could be in the run for a podium finish and a likely Kona slot.

Hopefully the nuances of the racing are going to be picked up in the live coverage of the race. I’m looking forward to an awesome day of fascinating racing!

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